Japanese war survivors on Wednesday welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor to offer condolences for those who died in the 1941 surprise attack there, but some questioned the lack of an apology or mention of the state’s responsibility for pursuing war.
Kikuyo Iida, 87, sister-in-law of Lt. Fusata Iida, a Japanese naval pilot who died in the Pearl Harbor attack, said Abe’s visit renewed her belief that Japan should never again wage war.
“Since so many lives were lost, we need to maintain peace,” Iida said as she prayed Wednesday at her home in Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture. In the background, live footage of Abe’s visit was being shown on TV.
Abe visited a memorial to Fusata Iida the previous day and praised Americans for erecting a memorial for their former enemy.
“Showing respect even to an enemy they fought against, trying to understand even an enemy that they hated. Therein lies the spirit of tolerance embraced by the American people,” Abe said in a speech on Tuesday in Hawaii.
During the attack, the fuel tank of Iida’s Zero fighter plane was hit. He died when the plane crashed. The U.S. buried his body and later built a memorial to his bravery.
Kikuyo, who was single at the time, wrote to Fusata’s mother to offer condolences after reading the news of Fusata’s death in the newspaper. That led to her being acquainted with Fusata’s cousin, Yoshiaki, whom she later married.
Kikuyo has since visited Fusata’s memorial in Hawaii five times, each time being taken on a detailed tour by U.S. hosts.
“Losing the lives of young people with war is a great loss for a nation,” she said. “I wish for world peace so that there would never be war again.”
Toshio Ushiroku, 94, who was on board the Japanese Imperial Navy’s battleship Kirishima during the attack, was somewhat more bitter.
“We risked our lives. If it were to be settled with the words ‘power of reconciliation,’ I can’t accept it,” Ushiroku said at his home in Shiga Prefecture.
Survivors of the atomic bombing, meanwhile, hailed the visit as a sign of reconciliation.
“Pearl Harbor had been a symbol of the two countries’ hatred, but the visit changed it to that of reconciliation and peace,” said Shigeaki Mori, 79, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima who has researched the fate of 12 American soldiers killed in the U.S. attack.
Mori shared a hug with U.S. President Barack Obama during his historic visit to Hiroshima in August ahead of Abe’s trip to Hawaii.
“I think Prime Minister Abe must have felt what I felt over the sunken battleship Arizona — that we must never start a war,” said Kikuyo Nakamura, a 92-year-old survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Nakamura has visited the memorial at Pearl Harbor.
Hiroya Sugano, an 83-year-old doctor from Shizuoka Prefecture, among the more than 100 people invited to attend the ceremony in Hawaii, said he had long awaited the moment.
“Only after the repose of souls can we start talks on peace,” said Sugano, who has been holding ceremonies commemorating war dead for years.
Others were more critical of Abe’s visit, including Kunihiko Sakuma, who heads the Hiroshima chapter of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations.
“He should have apologized for Japan pulling the trigger of war. Only then would we be able to call it future-oriented,” the 72-year-old said.
Yoshiro Yamawaki, 82, who has been sharing his accounts of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in English, said Abe is covering up facts using “pretty words,” adding Pearl Harbor “should be remembered as a symbol of Japan starting a reckless war.”
Akira Kawasaki, co-leader of civic group Peace Boat, echoed this view. He said he “felt discomfort” over the fact that Abe did not once make mention of state responsibility for pursuing war, adding that it made him feel almost as if Abe was engaged in a cover-up.